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Can Dallas Keuchel have a bounce-back season?

He’ll have to, to help a possible World Series run.

Seattle Mariners v Chicago White Sox Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Lofty hopes come with being the highest-paid at anything.

So you can imagine the pressure and disappointment from not only White Sox fans, but Kuechel himself, with how poorly he fared for the team last year. The southpaw struggled to go just 9-9, with the highest ERA of his career (5.28) in the second year of his three-year, $55 million deal.

Kuechel was a shell of himself for much of the season, failing to even make the postseason roster on a team for which he was supposed to be a key veteran presence and help get over the hump into a World Series contender. And Kuechel’s exile from the club was well-earned, going a measly 1-2 with a 5.84 ERA in just 24 23 innings in his final five starts and carrying a 4.40 or higher ERA in every month of the season but June.

Keuchel showed for much of the season that he will never be viewed as anywhere near ace material again. Thus going into this final year of his current contract, Chicago’s only expectation is that Kuechel survives as its fifth starter, someone who can give the team plenty of innings and a chance to win whenever he takes the mound.

That’s something Kuechel still has the ability to do. Last June, he went 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA, spinning arguably two of his best starts of the season back-to-back: Six innings with just two runs allowed on six hits with two walks and eight strikeouts in a victory over Toronto, and seven scoreless on just four hits with a walk and five strikeouts in a victory over Tampa Bay.

After his poor performance last season, Keuchel himself may have many questions going into the season about how well he can perform. But in 2017, Kuechel was coming off the worst season of his career, going 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA the previous year. He bounced back in 2017 with a 14-5 record and 2.90 ERA, a key component in Houston winning the 2017 World Series.

Kuechel still has his mechanics, and the ability to turn things around to win 13 or 14 games for the Sox as a reliable innings-eater — something the White Sox will desperately need these first few months of the season with injuries to Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito and uncertainty surrounding Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech.

That road to redemption for Kuechel will start this evening, pitching against the Seattle Mariners and a very formidable opposing starter, Robbie Ray. Kuechel looks to not only continue the effectiveness the Sox rotation has had in its first four games, but become the first Sox starter to pitch past the fifth inning this year.

The White Sox will need some rest for the bullpen at some point, so what better way for Kuechel to show he actually still belongs in the rotation? A solid six or seven innings will give the pen a rest, and give the Sox a very good shot at winning, too.